Au­dio Ana­logue’s Mae­stro An­niver­sary was pipped for the ‘Best Am­pli­fier Over $10,000’ award. The new AA­cento costs a whole lot less than that.

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS - Read­ers in­ter­ested in a full tech­ni­cal ap­praisal of the per­for­mance of the Au­dio Ana­logue AA­cento In­te­grated Am­pli­fier should con­tinue on and read the LAB­O­RA­TORY RE­PORT pub­lished on the fol­low­ing pages. Read­ers should note that the re­sults men­tioned in th

Ire­viewed Au­dio Ana­logue’s mighty Mae­stro An­niver­sary in­te­grated more than two years ago. At first glance the AA­cento might not seem to be in its big­ger sib­ling’s league, with a rated power out­put of ‘only’ 100-watts per chan­nel into 8 , com­pared to the Mae­stro’s rated out­put of 150-watts per chan­nel into 8 , but all is not what it seems.

Most au­dio­philes (and a good many pro­fes­sion­als in the in­dus­try who should know bet­ter, I’m afraid), think that to dou­ble the vol­ume you get from your speak­ers you need an am­pli­fier with dou­ble the power out­put. This isn’t true. You would ac­tu­ally need an am­pli­fier that’s 10 times more pow­er­ful in or­der to dou­ble the vol­ume level you’re get­ting from your speak­ers. So in or­der to get twice as pow­er­ful as a 100-watt am­pli­fier, you’d need to buy a 1,000-watt am­pli­fier. In terms of deci­bels, this is a 10dB dif­fer­ence.

So if you do the maths, you’ll find that the Mae­stro An­niver­sary—at 150-watts per chan­nel into 8 is only 1.76dB more pow­er­ful than the AA­cento. Is this sig­nif­i­cant? Well the small­est dif­fer­ence said to be per­cep­ti­ble to the hu­man ear is gen­er­ally held to be 1dB when us­ing test sig­nals and 3dB when us­ing mu­sic, so you tell me…


The front panel of the AA­cento bears many sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Mae­stro and, as you’ll find for your­self as you read fur­ther into this re­view, it shares the same ba­sic con­trol and pro­tec­tion cir­cuits as the Mae­stro—some­thing Au­dio Ana­logue calls ‘mi­cro­con­troller-based equip­ment man­age­ment.’

This mi­cro­con­troller-based equip­ment man­age­ment cir­cuitry al­lows Au­dio Ana­logue to do many very clever tricks with the AA­cento. The first (but by no means the last or the least) of these is that you can con­trol all the am­pli­fier’s func­tions us­ing that sin­gle ro­tary con­trol on the front panel. For starters, it’s the power switch… or, to be more pre­cise, it’s the standby power switch, since the main power switch is on the rear panel. A short push (fol­lowed by a re­lease) will see the am­pli­fier spring into life, which it does with some­thing of a blaze of glory, as when it does, all the LEDs on the front panel light-up, and they’re re­ally, re­ally bright… at least they are if you leave them in their ‘de­fault’ bright­ness con­fig­u­ra­tion.

If, like me, you think they’re just too bright, you can choose be­tween two al­ter­na­tive bright­ness set­tings. One is ‘mid’ bright­ness, or what Au­dio Ana­logue calls ‘mean’ bright­ness, and the other is what Au­dio Ana­logue calls ‘Dark Mode’ where the LEDs will glow only when you make an ad­just­ment to any of the con­trols, af­ter which what­ever LED(s) glow(s) as a re­sult of your ad­just­ment (switch­ing from one in­put to an­other, for ex­am­ple) will then ex­tin­guish, leav­ing the front panel of the am­pli­fier ‘Dark.’ (And in the case of my re­view sam­ple, which came with a black an­odised alu­minium fin­ish, that word was truly de­scrip­tive. I don’t imag­ine that quite the same would be the case if you or­dered the AA­cento in its bright brushed alu­minium fin­ish.)

Once you have turned the am­pli­fier on and the in­ter­nal cir­cuitry has sta­bilised and the pro­tec­tion cir­cuitry has checked for any po­ten­tial fault con­di­tions, the in­put cir­cuit will de­fault to the last-used in­put and the vol­ume will de­fault to zero. I can’t say that I was much en­am­oured of this logic. It would seem to me to be far more sen­si­ble to have the switch-on vol­ume de­fault to what­ever vol­ume level was last used. I know I’m not alone in my pref­er­ence, be­cause most other hi-fi man­u­fac­tur­ers that pro­vide elec­tronic switch­ing have their vol­ume de­fault to some­thing other than zero. Some use the ‘last used’ vol­ume, oth­ers de­fault to a nom­i­nal but

low vol­ume level, while still oth­ers al­low you to set your own pre­ferred de­fault switch-on vol­ume level.

I also wasn’t par­tic­u­larly happy with the time it takes to switch from one in­put to the other us­ing the front panel switch. As it hap­pens, the source I was pri­mar­ily us­ing to drive the AA­cento to pre­pare this re­view was con­nected to the balanced in­puts, but I was also us­ing the phono in­puts.

The rea­son for my an­noy­ance was that I was us­ing the front panel con­trol to switch from one in­put to the other, rather than the re­mote con­trol. (The rea­son be­ing that af­ter I have es­tab­lished a re­mote con­trol’s func­tion­al­ity—or other­wise—I tend to put it back in the pack­ag­ing straight away, be­cause this re­duces the risk of me for­get­ting to in­clude it when I re­turn the re­view unit to the dis­trib­u­tor.)

In the case of the AA­cento, us­ing the front panel con­trol to switch in­puts in­volves push­ing and hold­ing the con­trol for a min­i­mum of three sec­onds af­ter which, if you re­lease the con­trol, it switches to the next in­put. But the se­lec­tor only goes in the one di­rec­tion, so if you’re us­ing In­put 4 and wish to switch to In­put 3, it will take you 12 sec­onds to get there us­ing the front panel con­trol. Here’s the se­quence: Push, wait three sec­onds, re­lease… push, wait three sec­onds, re­lease… push, wait three sec­onds, re­lease… Wait! Why not use the bloody re­mote con­trol! I hear count­less read­ers cry­ing out in frus­tra­tion (and prob­a­bly Au­dio Ana­logue’s man­u­fac­turer as well). Well, yes, I could do that, and in fact I got so frus­trated that that’s ex­actly what I did do in the end. But I thought I’d men­tion it as a salu­tary les­son not to lose the re­mote con­trol!

And the re­mote con­trol is pretty easy to lose, be­cause it’s as black as the front panel of the AA­cento, and rel­a­tively small, at 45mm wide, 140mm deep and 20mm thick. It weighs 250g, a weight which may come as a sur­prise un­til I tell you that the re­mote is carved from a block of solid alu­minium, save for the alu­minium bot­tom plate that must be re­moved when re­plac­ing the bat­ter­ies (two AAAs). I was pleased to find that Au­dio Ana­logue pre-fits the re­mote with high-qual­ity al­ka­line bat­ter­ies. (You’d be amazed by how many high-end man­u­fac­tur­ers put cheap, zinc-car­bon bat­ter­ies, most of which are prone to leak­ing, into their su­per-ex­pen­sive re­motes just to save them­selves a few cents.)

In fact the re­mote con­trol Au­dio Ana­logue sup­plies with the AA­cento is ex­actly the same one it sup­plies with its top-of-the-range Mae­stro. There are two but­tons for in­put se­lec­tion (one steps ‘up’ and the other ‘down’ so you can get to in­puts faster), two for vol­ume con­trol (again, ‘up’ and ‘down’), one for ‘Mute’, one for ‘Standby’, and one for ‘SETUP’, about which more later. The re­mote uses in­fra-red, ad­dress­ing the cir­cu­lar in­fra-red re­ceiver re­cessed into the front panel at the left of the panel. (Note to the Ed­i­tor: In the past I would not have men­tioned this, but with so many high-end am­pli­fiers now us­ing ei­ther r.f. or Blue­tooth, I’m think­ing of men­tion­ing this in all my re­views now and in the fu­ture.)

I have to say that I don’t know whether Au­dio Ana­logue read my re­view of their Mae­stro, in which I com­plained about the

The re­mote Au­dio Ana­logue sup­plies with the AA­cento is the same one it sup­plies with its top-of-the-range Mae­stro

op­er­a­tion of the Mute con­trol, but they’ve fixed all those is­sues on this new AA­cento, so you can change in­puts when the am­pli­fier is muted and all the vol­ume LEDs that are on will flash when­ever the am­pli­fier is muted so you can ac­tu­ally see that it is muted, and you can also use the SETUP modes while the am­pli­fier is muted. So well done for pay­ing at­ten­tion guys… but there’s still one is­sue re­quir­ing at­ten­tion, which is that you can in­crease vol­ume (us­ing ei­ther the re­mote or the front panel con­trol) while the am­pli­fier re­mains muted. This is not such a good idea. Best prac­tise is to have the am­pli­fier un­mute it­self if the VOL+ but­ton on the re­mote is pressed (but not if the VOL– but­ton is pressed). Ditto for the front panel con­trol.

But I seem to have skipped ahead of my­self and for­got­ten to men­tion that in ad­di­tion to the Phono and Balanced in­puts, which I have al­ready men­tioned, the AA­cento also has three other line-level in­puts, rather sen­si­bly num­bered 1, 2 and 3.

Although there is only one Phono in­put, it can be switched to ac­com­mo­date ei­ther mov­ing-mag­net (MM) or mov­ing-coil (MC) car­tridges… but only by us­ing the re­mote con­trol. Us­ing the same in­put for both MM and MC types means that only the gain of the in­put stages can be ad­justed: it does not per­mit the pos­si­bil­ity of ad­just­ing the in­put ca­pac­i­tance or load re­sis­tance (which would have been pos­si­ble if Au­dio Ana­logue had pro­vided sep­a­rate MM and MC in­puts).

For mine, not pro­vid­ing an ad­justable phono stage on an am­pli­fier re­tail­ing at the price of the AA­cento seems a tad miserly, but it could equally be ar­gued that any­one us­ing such an am­pli­fier would be us­ing an ex­ter­nal phono stage, which would of­fer such niceties.

Although it is not ob­vi­ous, the AA­cento has a bal­ance con­trol and an in­fra­sonic fil­ter (which Au­dio Ana­logue in­cor­rectly calls a ‘sub­sonic’ fil­ter, but it might be a trans­la­tion er­ror, since the Ital­ian word for this con­trol is ‘ fil­tro sub­son­ico’… un­less it should be ‘ fil­tro in­fra­son­ico’ in Ital­ian as well). The bal­ance con­trol is ac­cessed by us­ing the ‘SETUP’ but­ton on the re­mote to se­lect what you’re ac­tu­ally ad­just­ing and the ‘VOL’ but­tons to make the nec­es­sary ad­just­ment.

This works pretty well once you’ve worked it out for your­self, which you’ll have to do be­cause the Owner’s Man­ual sup­plied by Au­dio Ana­logue is wrong in some ar­eas and not overly help­ful in oth­ers. For ex­am­ple it says you should use the ‘Set Mode’ but­ton, when there is no ‘Set Mode’ but­ton. It then refers you to the six in­put LEDs you will need to use, when in fact there are only five in­put LEDs. It’s not overly hard to work out what who­ever wrote the man­ual meant to say, but it’s not that easy ei­ther.

My ad­vice is to ask your dealer to run through all the ad­just­ments with you to make sure you know what you’re do­ing, be­cause if you don’t you could end up dam­ag­ing your loud­speak­ers. This could oc­cur, for ex­am­ple, if you ac­ci­den­tally set the AA­cento to its ‘DI­RECT’ mode. If you ac­ci­den­tally do this, the sig­nal from any source com­po­nent you have con­nected to In­put 2 will by­pass the AA­cento’s vol­ume con­trol and be sent di­rectly to the in­put of the power am­pli­fier stage, so the am­pli­fier will be op­er­at­ing at max­i­mum gain. This could po­ten­tially re­sult in dam­age to your loud­speak­ers. (The DI­RECT mode should only re­ally ever be used when In­put 2 is con­nected to an ex­ter­nal pream­pli­fier, ei­ther for two-chan­nel op­er­a­tion or as part of a multi-chan­nel au­dio set-up.)

The vol­ume in­di­ca­tion LEDs on the front panel have an­other pur­pose: They can bring to your at­ten­tion any in­ter­nal fault con­di­tions that might oc­cur. For ex­am­ple, if the am­pli­fier gets too hot, ei­ther or both of the fifth and sixth LEDs in the line will glow to in­di­cate ‘Overtem­per­a­ture Right Chan­nel’ and ‘Overtem­per­a­ture Left Chan­nel’ re­spec­tively. If there’s a d.c. off­set de­tected at the speaker ter­mi­nals (which could dam­age your loud­speak­ers), ei­ther or both of the third and fourth LEDs will glow as a warn­ing.

Well done for pay­ing at­ten­tion guys… but there’s still one is­sue re­quir­ing your at­ten­tion: the mut­ing cir­cuit...

Fi­nally, if the in­ter­nal d.c. rail volt­ages fall too low, the first and sec­ond LEDs in the line will glow—the first if the pos­i­tive rail is too low, and the sec­ond if the neg­a­tive rail is too low (and of course, both will glow if both rails are too low).

To the right of the vol­ume LEDs is a 6.35mm gold-plated phone socket. Au­dio Ana­logue uses a dis­crete, ded­i­cated Class-A head­phone am­pli­fier to drive this socket, for which it claims a power out­put of 500mW into 16Ω, 1-watt into 32Ω and 120mW into 300Ω.

The rear panel is well laid-out, with gold-plated RCA ter­mi­nals used for the un­bal­anced in­puts and out­puts, XLR ter­mi­nals for the balanced in­puts and high-qual­ity multi-way ter­mi­nals for the speaker out­puts. When connecting your speak­ers, pay care­ful at­ten­tion to the colour-cod­ing and the la­belling on the speaker ter­mi­nals, be­cause the neg­a­tive ter­mi­nal is on the right for the right chan­nel and on the left for the left chan­nel (that is, they’re mir­ror-im­aged).

Note, too, that the balanced in­put has what Au­dio Ana­logue says is a ‘na­tive’ dif­fer­en­tial in­put. Ac­cord­ing to de­signer An­drea Puc­cini, be­cause the AA­cento does not use global feed­back the neg­a­tive ter­mi­nal, which would nor­mally be part of a feed­back loop, can in­stead be used for sig­nal. ‘ The ma­jor­ity of feed­back am­pli­fiers, for the balanced in­put, host an op-amp con­fig­ured as in­stru­men­ta­tion am­pli­fier or they are di­rectly con­fig­ured as in­stru­men- tation am­pli­fiers but they nor­mally are de­signed for a sin­gle-ended in­put,’ he said. ‘ The AA­cento is de­signed from the out­set with a dif­fer­en­tial in­put stage, so it’s for this rea­son we say it’s a “Na­tive Dif­fer­en­tial Stage”.’

Au­dio Ana­logue also makes much of the fact that the am­pli­fier does not use global feed­back (although it al­most cer­tainly uses lo­calised neg­a­tive feed­back loops, but I ne­glected to check this with Puc­cini).

Neg­a­tive feed­back is a process where a small amount of the mu­sic sig­nal at the out­put of the am­pli­fier is looped back and re-in­serted at the in­put of the am­pli­fier, with the aim of com­pen­sat­ing for er­rors in the am­pli­fi­ca­tion process. If you think this is an out­landish idea, you’re in good com­pany. When Harold Black, who in­vented it (in or­der to re­duce dis­tor­tion in re­peater am­pli­fiers used for tele­phone trans­mis­sion) tried to pa­tent it, the U.S. Pa­tent of­fice re­fused to grant him one for more than nine years, be­cause they thought it was an out­landish idea as well. Af­ter fi­nally be­ing granted his pa­tent in 1937, Black wrote in an ar­ti­cle for IEEE Spec­trum (the jour­nal of the US In­sti­tute of Elec­tri­cal and Elec­tron­ics En­gi­neers): ‘ One rea­son for the de­lay was that the con­cept was so con­trary to es­tab­lished be­liefs that the Pa­tent Of­fice ini­tially did not be­lieve it would work.’

In fact many au­dio am­pli­fier de­sign­ers still don’t be­lieve global neg­a­tive feed­back works with mu­sic sig­nals, not least be­cause the sig­nal from the out­put that’s re-in­jected at the in­put is not part of the mu­sic it’s sup­posed to be cor­rect­ing… a bit like shut­ting the sta­ble door af­ter the horse has bolted. There’s also the fact that although neg­a­tive feed­back can demon­stra­bly re­duce low-or­der dis­tor­tions (2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc) on sine waves, it also in­tro­duces higher-or­der dis­tor­tion com­po­nents (15th, 16th, 17th, etc), the prob­lem here be­ing that whereas low-or­der dis­tor­tion com­po­nents sound ‘good’ to the hu­man ear (or are ob­scured by the mu­sic sig­nal it­self), high-or­der dis­tor­tion com­po­nents sound harsh to the hu­man ear, and are not ob­scured by the mu­sic sig­nal, since they oc­cur at such high fre­quen­cies.

As with Au­dio Ana­logue’s Mae­stro, the AA­cento is en­tirely de­signed, de­vel­oped and man­u­fac­tured in Italy—in a lit­tle spot called Mon­sum­mano Terme be­tween Florence and Lucca, in Tus­cany, ac­cord­ing to Ste­fano Blanda. Ob­vi­ously the com­pany buys in the com­po­nents that make up its am­pli­fiers, but it says that all the me­chan­i­cal parts, the power trans­form­ers and the cir­cuit boards are made in Italy. De­spite be­ing in busi­ness for so many years, Au­dio Ana­logue is still a fam­ily com­pany, man­aged by Ste­fano Blanda, who is the son of the com­pany’s founder, Giuseppe Blanda. And if you were won­der­ing where the ‘cento’ came from (the AA bit be­ing fairly ob­vi­ous af­ter all), it’s Ital­ian for ‘one hun­dred’ which of course is the am­pli­fier’s rated power out­put.

In Use and LIs­ten­Ing ses­sIons

Us­ing a row of LEDs to in­di­cate vol­ume is a some­thing of a cu­rate’s egg (‘good in parts’, for those of you not fa­mil­iar with the ex­pres­sion). For ex­am­ple, I liked the fact that the LEDs are easy to see from across the room, so if I de­cided that hav­ing four LEDs vis­i­ble was a good play­back level for a par­tic­u­lar time of day, I could eas­ily dial up the four LEDs ev­ery time. How­ever, be­cause the rest of the LEDs are off, you have no ‘vis­ual idea’ of how much power the am­pli­fier might have in re­serve, as you do when a vol­ume con­trol is set to, say, 9 o’clock. Ob­vi­ously I knew that there were 16 LEDs in to­tal to in­di­cate vol­ume level, so if four were show­ing, I was at ‘one-quar­ter power’, but know­ing some­thing is not quite the same as see­ing it.

De­spite what I wrote in the pre­vi­ous para­graph, the num­ber of LEDs show­ing re­ally gives only an in­di­ca­tion of the gain of the am­pli­fier, not the vol­ume from the speak­ers, or even the ac­tual out­put power, be­cause these will vary with the volt­age from the source com­po­nent and the ef­fi­ciency of the loud­speak­ers. Be­cause of this Au­dio Ana­logue does in fact give you some con­trol over how the num­ber of LEDs show­ing re­lates to ac­tual vol­ume level, rather than just gain. By us­ing the SETUP menu you can se­lect be­tween four dif­fer­ent ‘Vol­ume Scales’ that ad­just the rate at which the vol­ume is in­creased rel­a­tive to the move­ment of the vol­ume con­trol (or how long you press the vol­ume but­tons on the re­mote).

Ac­cord­ing to Au­dio Ana­logue, Scale #1 is best-suited for speak­ers of av­er­age ef­fi­ciency, Scale #2 is best-suited for high-ef­fi­ciency loud­speak­ers, Scale #3 al­lows more pre­cise vol­ume con­trol ad­just­ments across ‘mid vol­umes’, while Scale #4 is a ‘lin­ear in dB’ scale.

Ba­si­cally, all the dif­fer­ent scales sim­ply vary the num­ber of LEDs that glow for any par­tic­u­lar set­ting of the vol­ume con­trol. There did seem to be a dis­crep­ancy (a sud­den boost in vol­ume) in the lin­ear­ity of Scale #1 at the top-most step of the re­sis­tor lad­der, but it’s un­likely this will ever be en­coun­tered in or­di­nary day-to-day use.

As for the ac­tual process of vary­ing the vol­ume, the con­trol has a smooth ro­ta­tion and a smooth slop­ing sur­face which means you can’t ‘grasp’ it with your fin­gers as you can a straight-sided knob. You in­stead have to push in­wards (with one or more fin­gers) to get some grip on the con­trol sur­face, and then ro­tate the con­trol clock­wise or an­ti­clock­wise. But in do­ing this you have to be care­ful not to push too hard, or you’ll switch the con­trol to its ‘In­put Source’ func­tion… and if you hold it down for too long, this ac­tion will switch the am­pli­fier off. If you use the am­pli­fier of­ten, you’ll quickly get used to the con­trol op­er­a­tion, but over­all I think us­ing the re­mote to con­trol the am­pli­fier will re­sult in a su­pe­rior ‘user ex­pe­ri­ence’.

You’ll cer­tainly be in no doubt that you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a ‘su­pe­rior user ex­pe­ri­ence’ when you lis­ten to the way the Au­dio Ana­logue AA­cento re­pro­duces your mu­sic, be­cause it sounds absolutely glo­ri­ous. I say ‘absolutely glo­ri­ous’ be­cause although the sound is clean, un­coloured and in­tri­cately de­tailed, it has at the same time a rich­ness and warmth that envelops you in what­ever mu­sic is play­ing.

Lis­ten­ing to Fiona Joy play­ing A Walk In The Past from her al­bum ‘Into The Mist’, the sound of the 1885 Stein­way she’s play­ing is seem­ingly pro­pelled for­ward into the room, and the sound of the ham­mer felts hit­ting the strings some­how seemed more dy­namic than I have heard pre­vi­ously. Then, in Moon Over The Lo­tus Pond, where Joy keeps her foot on the sus­tain pedal for long pe­ri­ods of time, the fuller sound of the pi­ano that re­sults from this ac­tion res­onates more richly—and more like a real pi­ano— with ad­di­tional depth to the lower-fre­quency res­o­nances of the pi­ano frame it­self than I’ve heard be­fore. Ad­mit­tedly not all the pi­ano record­ings I own are recorded to the same qual­ity as this disc (recorded, mixed and mas­tered by Cookie Marenco on DSD256), so this was cer­tainly a fac­tor in the great sound qual­ity, but when I dou­ble-checked by play­ing some very or­di­nary-sound­ing pi­ano record­ings—mostly gar­nered from Philips’s Great Pian­ists of the 20th Cen­tury set (100 vol­umes fea­tur­ing record­ings by 72 of the great­est pian­ists of the 20th Cen­tury)—the AA­cento still de­liv­ered won­drous pi­ano sound. (I don’t own all 100 vol­umes, by the way, I se­lected only those pian­ists who most in­ter­ested me and although the record­ing qual­ity varies dra­mat­i­cally de­pend­ing on the age of the record­ing, the per­for­mances are all to die for… even the idio­syn­cratic ones).

The AA­cento’s amaz­ing dy­namic ca­pa­bil­i­ties were am­ply demon­strated by its abil­ity to de­liver The Stress Of Leisure’s ‘Achieve­ment’ al­bum at the high vol­ume lev­els that it should be played, yet there wasn’t a sin­gle mo­ment dur­ing my au­di­tion­ing ses­sions that I thought I needed more power than was be­ing de­liv­ered… or more power than was ob­vi­ously in re­serve. Jane El­liot’s ex­cep­tion­ally good play­ing (on bass) is a con­stant through­out this al­bum, and the AA­cento kept the pace, rhythm and tim­ing of her de­liv­ery ex­actly as I ex­pe­ri­enced it when I heard the band live in Bris­bane. On aim high/ get high the dirty synth sound con­trasts with the pu­rity of the damped cym­bal smashes from Phil Usher (since re­placed by Jes­sica Moore). The way the AA­cento was able to sep­a­rate the sev­eral con­trast­ingly syn­co­pated rhythms of brain jam was as im­pres­sive as the mu­si­cian­ship demon­strated by this track, which is prob­a­bly my favourite on this al­bum. I could lis­ten to it for­ever.

The beau­ti­ful high-fre­quency sound of the AA­cento was also clearly in ev­i­dence re­pro­duc­ing the clas­sic sound of Neil Kowald’s Ham­mond on This Is Sound from The Sons of Mod’s first al­bum, ‘We Bap­tize you in the Name of MOD’. An­other great demo of the AA­cento’s pre­sen­ta­tion comes at the end of Hamburg Stomp, where the mu­sic stops abruptly. Lis­ten to the acous­tic around the spo­radic hand­claps and the authen­tic­ity of the sound of the an­nounce­ment: ‘ jolly good show chaps.’ Then there’s the sound of the cym­bals on Our Man in Ha­vana and the way you can hear them siz­zling and spit­ting be­hind the lead gui­tar break while not los­ing that lus­cious ‘ride’ sound.

The Au­dio Ana­logue’s sonic strengths are so many that I’d re­ally not dare to sin­gle any one out as be­ing greater than any of the oth­ers, but if you twisted my arm be­hind my back un­til I did, it would have to be the al­most-mirac­u­lous way it han­dled vo­cals, of both male and fe­male singers alike. From the dusky sounds of Frank Si­na­tra to the wails of Min­nie Riper­ton to the strange­ness of Björk, the sad­ness of Joni Mitchell, the croak of Leonard Co­hen or the raspi­ness of Bob Dy­lan, the AA­cento just nailed their sonic de­liv­er­ies in­di­vid­u­ally, so it’s al­most as if you’re lis­ten­ing to the same mu­sic you’ve al­ways

owned, but it’s sud­dently been mirac­u­lously re-mas­tered to ex­tract the ab­so­lute high­est fidelity.


In my in­tro­duc­tory para­graphs I pointed out the fact that the dif­fer­ence in out­put power be­tween Au­dio Ana­logue’s Mae­stro and AA­cento is in­signif­i­cant when lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. I’ve also proved dur­ing the re­view that much of the in­ter­nal cir­cuitry of the AA­cento is ei­ther iden­ti­cal, or in­signif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from the Mae­stro. Build qual­ity is also iden­ti­cal. The re­mote con­trol is also iden­ti­cal. What is cer­tainly dif­fer­ent is the pric­ing, with the Mae­stro re­tail­ing for $12,300 and the AA­cento for just $5,590. Oh, and I al­most for­got… the Mae­stro doesn’t have a phono stage or a head­phone out­put, whereas the AA­cento has both. Sure the Mae­stro has far higher power out­put into low im­ped­ances and its ad­di­tional power out­put into 8 will be help­ful with tran­sients if you have in­ef­fi­cient speak­ers, plus I think it looks nicer, and the ex­ter­nal heat-sink­ing means it’s go­ing to run cooler, but if you don’t need any of these abil­i­ties—and you don’t care about the looks—Au­dio Ana­logue’s AA­cento would seem to of­fer rather more bang for your buck. Jutta Dzi­wnik

Although there is only one phono in­put, it can be switched to ac­com­mo­date ei­ther mov­ing-mag­net (MM) or mov­ing-coil (MC) car­tridges.

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